Spices were once central to trade between the East and West; the foundation of Commerce as we know it today, Spice Merchants crisscrossed land and sea to source their wares, some (e.g. saffron), more costly than gold.
These days, spices are relatively inexpensive and widely available, and to think that they were once very tightly guarded commodities, generating immense wealth for those who controlled them, seems unimaginable from our point of view,
The spice trade began in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. Later, Arab spice merchants would add a sense of mystery to the trade, by withholding the origins of their wares, and drive up prices by spinning fantastic tales about having to endure all manner of danger and foe on route to reach the spices they brought back from their travels.
Initially, the spice trade was conducted mostly by camel caravans over land routes. The Silk Road was an important route connecting Asia with the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and Europe. Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great civilizations of China, India, Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Rome.
Today, spices are still valued as an essential part of the culinary arts, although many continue to carry a certain exotic cache’, much of the mystery has since dropped away, and we have become far more adventurous in our use of these flavourings, as our palates have become more sophisticated, and travel (and the internet), has brought the wider world to our doorsteps.
Last week Taos Spice Merchants opened their doors, (in the large space where Salon X was originally located), and I was there in a heartbeat to pick up a few varieties of curry blends, having grown up in South Africa, where curry’s are part and parcel of the culture, being home to the largest East Indian population outside of India. The space has been transformed and is barely recognizable in its new incarnation. It’s a beautiful, pristine showcase for the jars of spices that fill floor to ceiling shelves throughout the shop.
As my stew was simmering on the stove, I emailed a few questions to Delta and her husband, Patrick Trujillo.
1) What made you decide to open a spice shop?
We (Eliza, Delta and I ) all share a passion to cook and enjoy deep, rich flavors. Delta and I were on vacation back east and went into a small spice shop – we spent an hour in there. A couple of shop doors down we spent another hour in an olive oil and balsamic store. Later that evening at dinner Delta said to me, “We are going to open a high quality spice and Olive Oil store in Taos.” That was last January. We spent the beginning of the year sourcing the absolute finest, highest quality salts, olive oils, balsamic vinegar and spices from around the world to bring here to Taos. The salts have a documented provenance. Many of the spices have organic certification, and the olive oils and balsamic have won numerous awards.
2) You are carrying more than just spices – there are olive oils, vinegar and these cool flavoured salts (and salt slabs for cooking on), is this the extent of your inventory or can we expect to see more as time goes by?
We carry numerous culinary items as well, fermentation products, culinary books – hard to find items. We are expecting Peugeot salt and pepper mills in this week. We will be carrying Ohio StoneWare crocks and bowls. We are also still sourcing hard to find Continental ingredients – quality pesto, dried mushrooms… things of that nature.
3) Eliza (Delta’s mother), and Patrick are working here, and Delta has her salon next door. Will she work here as well, and if so, how often?
Eliza will be primarily in the store. I will be in a couple of days a week as well. Delta is the wizard behind the curtain.
That is the goal. We are fans of collaboration. There are many wonderful, knowledgeable chefs and gourmet cooks in our area. We hope to be able to provide a space where we can all share our joy for epicurean delight.
5) Speaking of which, how many spices are you carrying at the moment?
We currently have over 200 spices, salts and blends. We have a large curry selection and numerous whole chili pods from both Southeast Asia and Latin America as well. Creating regional chili sauces are like creating curries – each has a unique blend of different pod varieties that develop into deep back flavors emerging on the palate throughout the tasting of the dish. The combinations are literally, endless.